The circus

It was always an exciting time when Billy Smart’s Circus, Chipperfield’s Circus or Crows Fair came to town. They set up on the Brickie Common, not far from the Trunk Road. ‘The Brickie’ was, in reality, just an expanse of waste ground that had been the site of the original brickworks needed to build North Ormesby in the 1850s.

The fair usually opened at dusk, but only livened up when the pubs chucked out. My friends and I were about twelve or thirteen, and hung around the fairground to watch the excitement of The ‘Noseark’ (Noah’s Ark) as it sped around to the strains of Kay Starr’s ‘Wheel of Fortune’ or Teresa Brewer’s ‘Music Music Music’.

One of the most amazing spectacles we saw was a one-legged man1, who did a swallow dive off a sixty-foot-high platform into a small circular shallow pool, no more than sixteen feet in diameter, and a mere five feet deep. Petrol was poured onto the water’s surface and set alight. We thought he would hit the side of the tank as it was so small. We watched from only a few feet away. It was an awesome sight. His name was Frank ‘Peggy’ Gadsby, and his ‘Death Dive’ was renowned throughout England. Surprisingly he lived to the grand age of eighty.

Frank ‘Peggy’ Gadsby

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